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'Swan Lake': Return of the beefed-up ballet


Swan Credit: Handout

Swan Lake

3.5 Stars

This isn’t your grandmother’s night at the ballet.

Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” which played Broadway in 1998 and all over the world, radically revises Tchaikovsky’s romantic ballet on sexual, political and psychological levels. But it is best known for replacing the traditional chorus of delicate ballerinas with brawny, bare-chested men.

In the original 1895 version of “Swan Lake,” Prince Siegfried falls in love with the princess Odette, who changes into a swan at night. After Siegfried mistakes Odette for the evil sorcerer’s daughter Odile, he and Odette kill themselves in order to be together.

In Bourne’s version, the sad and sensitive prince is bored with royal life and ignored by his fame-seeking mother. On the verge of committing suicide, he sees a flock of aggressive male swans materialize out of a pond. During the erotically charged sequence, the prince becomes sexually attracted to one of them.

At a royal ball, the prince and his mother compete for the attention of a dangerous young male who resembles the swan. When the prince is rejected, he pulls out a gun and aims for his mother. By the end, he is locked away in an insane asylum while still tormented by visions of swans.

Bourne’s wildly theatrical staging combines forms of modern and classical dance with silent comedy and pantomime. It is one of few contemporary dance productions that can simultaneously honor and reinvent classical ballet, as well as appeal to diverse audiences.

The biggest regret of this return engagement is that Tchaikovsky’s score is not performed live. Otherwise, “Swan Lake” remains a truly stunning achievement.

If you go: “Swan Lake” plays at City Center through Nov. 7. 131 W. 55th St., 212-581-1212,


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